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Is There a Safer Way to Smoke Cannabis? How the Methods Stack Up

If you’re looking for the healthiest way to smoke cannabis, keep in mind that there’s no totally safe way to do so — even with the purest, most pesticide-free bud. Cannabis smoke contains most of the same toxins and carcinogens that make tobacco smoke harmful to your health.

There are, however, methods that may be slightly less harmful than others. Here’s a look at how different methods compare, plus some smoke-free alternatives to consider.

The dangers of smoke inhalation are well known, so it’s not surprising that a lot of folks assume vaping is the healthier alternative to smoking. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

There’s mounting evidence that vaping can have serious health effects. Much of the concern comes from inhaling vitamin E acetate, a chemical additive found in many vaping products containing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.

However, this risk seems to apply only to vaping concentrates, not flower. A 2006 study suggests that vaping actual cannabis, not concentrate, is less harmful to your respiratory system than smoking. Still, research on vaping cannabis is pretty limited.

Lung health aside, there’s also a matter of potency. People who vape cannabis report experiencing stronger effects — regardless of the amount of THC in the product — than they do when smoking. This means a higher chance of overdoing it, or greening out, when vaping.

Maybe a teeny, tiny bit, but nowhere near enough to make a difference.

Bongs offer a smoother toke because you don’t get the dry heat from smoking cannabis rolled in paper. Though it feels less harsh when you inhale, your lungs don’t know the difference.

Well, both still involve inhaling smoke, so there’s that. But if you had to choose the lesser of two evils, joints are probably the better option. This is because blunts are made with hollowed-out cigars, and cigars and their wrappers are highly toxic.

Even after removing all the tobacco from a cigar, cancer-causing toxins, such as nitrosamines, can remain. Plus, cigar wrappers are more porous than rolling papers, so the burning is less complete. This results in smoke with high concentrations of toxins.

Then there’s the matter of size. Blunts are a lot bigger than joints, and they hold way more pot. Smoking an entire blunt is like smoking roughly six joints.

Dabbing is supposed to give you a “cleaner” high, but what does that actually mean? Not much.

Budder — another name for dabs or marijuana concentrate — delivers a lot more THC than other weed products, often as much as 80 percent more.

Dabbing is still pretty new, so experts still don’t know the full impact.

There’s evidence that exposure to high THC may lead to long-term mental health effects, like psychosis. The risk of misuse and addiction is also higher when using high-THC products, especially for young people.

Plus, unless you have high-tech lab equipment and are trained in extraction, your dabs may be far from pure. Research shows that dabs can contain contaminants and residual solvents that can to neurotoxicity and cardiotoxicity.

Dabbing also has respiratory effects, even though you’re not technically “smoking.” There have been cases of people developing lung damage from dabbing.

The bad news? There’s no safe way to smoke cannabis. The good news? There are plenty of other ways to consume it.

Here are your main options:

  • Edibles. Unlike smoking and vaping, ingesting cannabis won’t harm your lung health. The downside for some is that edibles take longer to kick in because they need to clear your digestive system before getting into your bloodstream. The upside is that the effects also hang around longer. You also have an endless variety to choose from, with everything from gummies to baked goods to cannabutter.
  • Sublinguals. These are usually lumped together with edibles, but they’re not quite the same. Unlike edibles, you don’t actually swallow sublingual forms of cannabis, which include things like tinctures, films, and dissolvable tablets. Sublingual cannabis is placed under the tongue for absorption, and is absorbed through your mouth’s mucus membranes, so the effects are felt faster.
  • Tinctures. Tinctures are made of alcohol-based cannabis extracts that come in bottles with droppers. You can add tinctures to drinks, but you can also get the effects faster by placing a few drops — depending on your desired dose — under your tongue.
  • Topicals. Cannabis topicals are for people looking for the therapeutic benefits of cannabis without the cerebral effects. Creams, balms, and patches can be applied to the skin to relieve inflammation and pain. There’s also cannabis lubricant made for, well, sexy time.
  • Suppositories. The idea of shoving cannabis up your butt (or vagina, depending on the product) may make you clench, but it’s definitely a thing. Most of the suppositories on the market are CBD-infused and used for therapeutic reasons, like pain or nausea relief, but some brands have upped their THC content for added effects.

If you’d still rather smoke your weed despite the risks, consider these harm-reduction tips to help make it a little safer:

  • Don’t hold the inhale. Inhaling deeply and holding it in exposes your lungs to more tar per breath. Don’t be greedy; exhaling faster is better for you.
  • Use rolling papers approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Rolling papers may seem like NBD, but some contain chemicals and flavorings that can be toxic.
  • Stick to glass bongs and pipes. Plastic bongs can contain chemicals like BPA and phthalates, which have been linked to serious health effects, including cancer.
  • Keep your stuff clean. Keep your bongs and pipes clean, and don’t roll your weed on dirty surfaces.
  • Don’t share mouthpieces or pass joints. Sharing your stash is fine, but not your pipes, bongs, or joints. When you share these, you’re basically swapping spit with that person and putting yourself at risk for infections.

No matter how you dice it, there’s really no safe way to smoke cannabis, whether you prefer to roll one up or are partial to bongs. As cannabis becomes more popular, so do products that allow you to indulge without the smoke.

That said, if you’re partial to puffing and passing, a vaporizer that allows you to use flower, not concentrates, may be a less harmful option.

Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed-up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddleboard.

You can smoke cannabis in a variety of ways, but is one safer or healthier than others?

‘Lockdown boredom led me to smoke more weed’

By Mona McAlinden
BBC Scotland

Like most of us at the beginning of lockdown, Reece had big plans about what he and his partner would do with the extra time.

They were going to paint the decking and the house as well as upholstering the furniture.

“Now, 10 weeks later, we’ve given up doing that,” he told BBC Scotland’s Unlocked podcast.

As hairdressers, the couple have gone from full-time employment to being at home all day every day.

Boredom soon started to creep in and that brought with it some lifestyle changes.

“Before lockdown we’d have a couple of joints around the weekend,” he said. “After lockdown it was becoming every day.

“We used to wait until about 8 o’clock at night. But then it got to one o’clock, three o’clock in the afternoon and we thought, ‘should we be smoking it this early?’.

“But then we thought ‘there’s nothing else to do, we’re stuck in the house, so why not?’.”

Reece said: “I’ve noticed that I’ve even started putting more weed in my joints so it’s basically all just pure marijuana now.”

Reece’s experience in not unique.

Coping mechanism

Since lockdown began, the Edinburgh-based charity Crew 2000 has surveyed hundreds of recreational drug users. More than 50% have reported drinking and taking drugs more often, and in bigger quantities, than before the pandemic.

The drugs which have had the biggest upsurge in usage are cannabis, cocaine and alcohol.

The charity’s Kira Weir said: “A lot of that was to do with boredom. For example, with cannabis, people say they’re smoking more because they had more time on their hands, and actually they saw it as a way to de-stress; they saw it as some ‘me time’.

“Other people mentioned that it was because of isolation, because they’ve lost their other support networks, and for some people they saw it as a coping mechanism.”

As well as higher and more solo usage, the survey also reported changes to the drugs market since the Covid-19 outbreak, including price rises, shortages and lower purity.

Kira added: “What we can see as well though is that the drug market’s been quite adaptable.

“A lot of people report that a lot of sales have moved online, to crypto markets or social media. Whereas they would normally be buying things face to face, around 30% of our respondents have now moved online.”

For Reece, it’s just as easy to get cannabis now as it was before lockdown. It’s a socially distant transaction, with his dealer leaving it in a safe place outside his home and the payment made by bank transfer.

But he said he and his partner are now trying to rein in how much they’re using.

“We’re still smoking most days of the week but we’re trying to limit how much we smoke,” he said.

“We’re basically rationing it out, because we’ve not been working for 10 weeks so we need to ration.”

Crew 2000’s survey suggests the majority of recreational drug users are also drinking more. It’s a post-lockdown development that Reece can relate to.

He said: “We got a new house last year and the alcohol that people had got us from Christmases before, and for moving in – it all just sat there. We probably put our glass recycling bin out twice in six months.

“And it’s been out near enough every single week since lockdown’s come on.

“We usually drink on a Monday, Tuesday, not the weekend, but I think that’s just because you still get that Monday feeling.”

Patterns established

Katy Macleod from the Scottish Drugs Forum said: “When we start thinking about triggers for drug use, boredom is definitely one feature. With the temptation of it, you can see why young people would probably use a bit more than they planned.

“Drug services have had to adapt in the current climate – there are things like Skype counselling, FaceTime and phone support, which makes it easier for some young people to access services because that’s how they might be comfortable interacting.”

Kira from Crew 2000 said its Edinburgh drop-in service has now moved online.

“We’ve got a digital drop-in that can be accessed via our website,” she said.

Kira said people might need support during a period of re-adjustment when lockdown ends, because patterns of drinking and taking recreational drugs as a coping mechanism might be difficult to shift.

She said: “If anybody feels that they want to get some support around drugs, particularly around cannabis and cocaine – those are the main drugs that we deal with – we can offer distanced counselling at this time.”

After lockdown, Reece plans to return to how he used to use cannabis.

“It’s going to be a total adjustment going from doing absolutely nothing during lockdown to going back to work,” he said.

“So things will have to change. I need to be back at work.”

Reece had big plans for his time during lockdown but instead he has found himself smoking drugs.